With the world getting more and more digitized, people continue to drift toward online shopping. When COVID-19 restrictions hit, this became the only option available in some cases, so many brick-and-mortar stores decided to create an eCommerce website. Now, offline shopping is regaining ground, but savvy retailers are expanding into digital as well to gain access to the largest user base and increase sales by providing a powerful omnichannel experience. In this article, we’ll share tips on how to build a website for eCommerce, the benefits of doing so, its feature set, and the pros and cons of using a builder vs custom development.
How an eCommerce Website Can Improve Your Sales
Why should you create your own eCommerce store and start an online presence? Here’s why.
The omnichannel approach allows you to reach customers who shop in person, on mobile, or on desktop. It enables access to the largest possible target audience. Some people prefer the speed and convenience of buying from their own homes, while others like the human contact and the entertaining experience of a physical store.
An omnichannel retailer would reach both, as it is an online business and a physical one at the same time.
Buy online — pick up at the store
Another convenient combination of physical and digital is selling online and letting a user pick up the product at your physical location. You don’t have delivery to contend with, and its associated risks and costs. The shopper can get the item, check it out, and return it with no trouble if the need arises.
Attracting the next generation of customers
There already is a major age-based divide in eCommerce usage: the older the person, the less likely they are to turn to online shopping. Conversely, younger generations drift toward digital experiences. On average, they spend more than 4 hours a day on their smartphones in general and on shopping apps in particular, so stores without a digital presence are bound to lose in the race for zoomer customers.
Level up from an eCommerce website
Starting an eCommerce website is helpful, but building an eCommerce app is taking the idea a step further and making the shopping experience truly omnichannel.
First, applications can offer features that websites can’t. Push notifications, geolocation for showing the nearest physical store, fingerprint scan for authentication — there are many features only available through apps.
Second, mobile apps are faster. They generally load features quicker because they have more hardware resources available. The faster a person can get to your product, the less chance there is of them leaving.
Third, under certain conditions, you can reuse the code from your website in your mobile app. For example, if your online shop is built with React, a React Native mobile app could be built faster by using the parts that are already written.
Ready to increase your online sales? Send a message to Epam Anywhere Business and get our expert tips on developing a profitable eCommerce website.
Must-have Features of an eCommerce Website
When building eCommerce websites, this is what you need to succeed. Each of the following subjects warrants a separate article; here, we will describe them in brief so that you know the fundamentals.
One of the main reasons people shop online, perhaps the main one, is convenience. This means that creating a website that is easy to use and buy from is what you have to focus on if you want to succeed in eCommerce.
The first step is making the goods easy to reach. Place them prominently, separate them into clear categories, and add a search option to help users find what they want quickly. Filters that distinguish by categories, sizes, etc., can help as well.
The second is making the purchasing process fast. The more steps a person has to take, the more likely they are to abandon buying and leave. You don’t want that. Place the “Add to cart” and “Add to favorites” buttons where users can see them and make them stand out. Then ensure that people need to do as little as possible to pay you and get the item delivered.
The third is product details. You should cram the most information you can (materials, sizes, specifications, etc.) and do it in a way that doesn’t repel shoppers. Lists work reasonably well.
The fourth is some option for feedback, like ratings and reviews, for instance. This aspect is beneficial for both you and your clients, as it decreases returns, increases customer satisfaction, and helps you make better decisions regarding purchasing certain wares.
Companies providing eCommerce website development services know these principles, though it helps if you know them as well.
High-resolution visual content
Pictures are the main attractor and a great way to learn about the products you sell. So don’t skimp on them. Make sure they are high quality, and that each product has several of them, showing the details that people want to see. The more enticing you make the pics, the more you will sell.
Interaction and gamification
Gamification is adding game elements to a non-game environment. It is an effective motivational tool that is very common in eLearning, but is also useful for eCommerce.
You can use a system of points, badges, and other features to encourage people to shop more at your place. For example, rewarding people for writing reviews, making purchases, or regularly visiting your website would work.
However, gamification isn’t something that you can just do casually. When designed wrong, it can actually hurt your sales, so think this one through thoroughly.
Payment gateway integration
A payment gateway or payment processor (they are not one and the same, though are often used interchangeably) is a system that allows people to make online transactions. You have to have one integrated if you are going to sell online. Some of the more common ones include Stripe, PayPal, Braintree, and Authorize.net.
You can also create your own payment gateway.
There are two basic types of integration: on-site (the user doesn’t leave your website) and off-site (the user is redirected to the processor’s website to finish the transaction). The first option is more natural and has a lower abandonment rate; however, it is also harder to set up and the payment gateway vendors charge more for it. Off-site payments are easier to integrate, but some shoppers will inevitably leave when redirected.
Note that in the case of Android and iOS apps you don’t have much of a choice — you are only allowed to use Google and Apple payment systems, respectively, if you want to place your apps in their stores.
People buy hundreds of billions of dollars worth of goods through their mobile phones. Many of them access eCommerce websites through smartphones, so optimizing your website to accommodate such users is important to succeed.
The most common and effective way to achieve this is through responsive design — making the layout change dynamically depending on the user’s screen size and position.
Things to Consider Before Creating an eCommerce Website
eCommerce website development has a lot of nuances that need to be taken into account. The most important are:
Just like in construction, architecture determines how the website will perform. It affects the scalability, search engine-friendliness, and performance. There are three common types:
- Two-stage. A simple structure, with customer-facing features on one side, and business logic on the other.
- Three-stage. Same as the two-stage but with a data storage layer added. This is useful for integrating various data-driven software.
- SaaS. Setting up your shop on a platform provided by a third party. It is simpler and includes free upgrades but also has the least amount of flexibility.
Safety and security
“Keep it secret. Keep it safe,” a certain wise man said regarding a very important piece of jewelry. He might as well have talked about user data. In the case of shopping, keeping it secure is very important, as you deal with financial information and, possibly, other sensitive matters.
For example, certain adult products and medical equipment stores should take extra care to secure people’s purchasing history.
Another part of the matter is legal compliance. Besides those cookie warning sidebars, you might have to implement other data-related policies, depending on what you store and where you are based.
Overall, this is a topic that you should ask your eCommerce software development services vendor about.
Search engine optimization (SEO) is a branch of marketing dedicated to making websites rank high in search engines like Google and Bing. For websites, it is of paramount importance: you might have a great-looking online store stocking high-quality and well-priced items but you will not sell much if people don’t visit you.
SEO is a combination of on-site and off-site measures. On-site ones include mobile-friendliness, link usage, website speed, markup, relevant keywords use, etc. Off-site SEO mainly includes getting a lot of high-quality links back to your online store, although there are many methods of achieving it.
Depending on your business’ size, you can either create an in-house SEO team or hire an agency to promote you.
CMS stands for the content management system. It is software that allows you to control what you have on your website: products and product descriptions, pictures, blog articles, etc., without requiring much technical knowledge to do so.
CMS makes up an important part of your online shop’s admin panel, so it is vital that your CMS remains both powerful and easy to understand for your employees.
In many cases, companies setting up an eCommerce website need to connect it to other relevant software: customer relationship management systems (CRMs), inventory management systems, enterprise resource planning software, etc. This produces some major benefits, like acquiring a lot of actionable information and automating routine tasks. Customer relationship management in e-Commerce is especially important, as it facilitates increasing repeat business.
However, setting up these integrations can be arduous, and requires technical skill when building the online shop.
PWA vs Native vs Hybrid
This is a matter exclusive to mobile. However, as mobile apps are a part of the development of an eCommerce store, it is worth looking into.
There are several approaches to making a mobile app.
- Progressive web app. It is built with web technologies and is pretty much a website that pretends to be a mobile app. Your users can run it in their browsers (one app for both iOS and Android) and download it from your website, bypassing the app store review process.
It is simple to build and distribute, gets you a small SEO boost, and allows you to send out push notifications. On the other hand, it is much slower than other types and doesn’t have access to more advanced features (e.g. virtual try-on).
- Native. These apps are built with technologies promoted by Google (Java & Kotlin) and Apple (Objective-C and Swift). They provide the best performance and access to more low-level features than other kinds but are pricier to develop for both platforms.
- Hybrid. The first type of hybrid apps includes ones built with web technologies though independent from browsers (e.g. with the Ionic framework). They are cheap to develop and offer decent performance and visuals. Unfortunately, their UX is lagging behind native apps and they don’t work offline. The second one is for apps that use React Native and Xamarin. They are almost as fast as native apps and can be up to 40% cheaper when you develop them for both platforms. Yet they might still require native app development knowledge to build.
A reliable technical partner like Epam Anywhere Business will deliver your online store after taking all these matters into account. Send us a message and let’s discuss the details.
Top 6 Website Builders, their Advantages and Disadvantages
One of the simplest ways to build an eCommerce website from scratch is to use a website builder. They are low-code/no-code platforms that allow you to put together premade elements, as if playing with LEGO or other construction toys. In this section, we’ll look at the top examples and their benefits and drawbacks compared to others.
Inherent advantages and disadvantages
All options that allow you to build your own eCommerce website have inherent pros and cons.
Here’s what website builders as a class have going for them:
- No coding or design skills required. Anyone can do it, irrespective of their technical proficiency or artistic ability.
- Low cost in the short term. Builders are cheap to use and don’t require hiring a development team. However, over time license payments for some of them can seriously add up.
- Quick. Putting together a basic website will take under an hour.
- Technical responsibilities are on the vendor. The developers of commercial website builders handle security, updates, and other similar tasks.
And these are their disadvantages:
- Limited customization. You won’t be able to order unique features, like virtual try-on — only the few that are included in the builder will be available.
- Repeated designs. Builders are template-based. It is likely that other stores, maybe even competitors, have designs similar to yours.
- SEO issues. Websites made by builders tend to rank lower than their more customized counterparts.
- Integration issues. Connecting such a web store to other business software can be a pain if there are no native integration functions. In addition, any update can cause the integration to break.
- Limited automation options. Custom eCommerce websites can automate most of the sales cycle; websites built by builders can’t.
Shopify is the pre-eminent eCommerce website builder. It is powerful, feature-rich, and has a good reputation among users, with the ratings reaching 4.5/5. Independent reviewers recommend it for larger businesses.
This is what people praise Shopify for:
- Easy to start using. The basic building process is simple and intuitive.
- Lots of apps and integrations. Shopify uses apps that can be installed into your online store to perform specific functions. It can also be easily integrated with payment processors like Stripe and PayPal.
- Responsive customer support. Users’ problems were typically addressed quickly.
And this is what they didn’t like:
- High cost. Both the platform and many apps require regular license payments. These can quickly add up. In addition, if you don’t use Shopify payments, the system charges an additional transaction fee.
- Few basic features. Shopify is designed to be modular, with most functions performed by apps. As a result, the core functionality is very limited.
- Complexity. Once you get past the very basics, the learning curve gets very steep.
- Absent features. Many features (e.g. running promotions with individual coupons) are either missing or don’t work properly.
WooCommerce is an eCommerce plugin for WordPress, the most popular content management system in the world. It is free and open-source software, with all the pros and cons of these categories. Users rated it 4.5/5 on average.
These are its main advantages:
- No upfront costs. Anyone can download and install it for free.
- Lots of complimentary plugins. These greatly expand the feature set of WooCommerce.
- More customizable than other builders. Due to being open-source, anyone with the right technical skill can modify it.
But there are also disadvantages:
- Some assembly required. WooCommerce can be tricky to install if you aren’t tech-savvy.
- Plugin issues. While some plugins work well, others can crash your store or are expensive.
- Lacking in features. Automation and bulk processing are very limited.
BigCommerce is another leading tool to set up an eCommerce store. It has users all over the world and a solid rating of 4.4/5.
These are its advantages:
- Plenty of templates. There are a lot of available options, so you are more likely to stand out from the crowd.
- No platform commissions. Unlike Shopify, BigCommerce doesn’t levy extra charges on transactions.
- Good SEO features. This builder offers more options to promote your website on search engines.
And these are things people don’t like:
- Harder to set up. BigCommerce is generally considered more complex than other solutions.
- Support issues. Some users complained that customer support didn’t know about ongoing technical problems and how to deal with them.
- Hard to expand. More advanced features take a lot of work to set up and operate.
Magento is actually two products. One is open-source, costs nothing to download, and is the most popular eCommerce builder on the planet. It is rated 4/5. The other is proprietary, expensive, and targets large enterprises. As the open-source version is more popular, we’ll focus on it.
This is what people like about Magento:
- Scalability. Magento-based stores work smoothly with a large number of products and product categories.
- Customization. Being open-source, you can modify it, as long as you know how.
- Feature set. Magento can do everything you could ever need (email marketing, categories, promotions, etc.) for running an online store.
There are disadvantages as well:
- Beginner-unfriendly. Unless you know how to code, you will have a hard time working with Magento.
- Easy to make mistakes. When set up imperfectly, it can work slowly and become less scalable. And a Magento shop is very easy to set up wrong.
- Costly modules. The various dedicated expansions for Magento can cost a lot of money.
- Expensive. Despite being free, launching and supporting a store on this system will likely require costly development work.
WiX is a relative newcomer to the website builder scene but it has earned high praise from the users and a rating of 4.4/5. It is mostly used by small businesses.
These are its pros:
- Simplicity. WiX is one of the easiest website builders out there, thanks to its convenient drag-and-drop system.
- Good templates. This builder’s templates are both good-looking and customizable.
- Feature set. WiX has a ton of useful features, design tools, fonts, and templates.
And these are its cons:
- Instability. Many users complained about crashes and features not working as they should.
- Subpar customer support. Getting help from WiX developers was hard and took a long time.
- Few add-ons and integrations. WiX is hard to couple with external software, and it has few useful extensions.
Many people turn to PrestaShop to make an online eCommerce store. It is open-source and uses a freemium model, which means the basic features are free to use. It is ranked 4.3/5.
Its advantages are as follows:
- Feature set. PrestaShop can do a lot of things (including cross-selling, localization, etc.), and do them well.
- Beautiful themes. The customers praise them for their visual appeal and responsive design.
- SEO support. PrestaShop has a good inbuilt SEO dashboard to help you optimize your shop.
And now for the disadvantages:
- Expensive themes. Templates for this platform are pricier than usual.
- Slow customer support. Getting help takes a lot of time. Alternatively, you could hire someone to help you for an extra cost.
- Complex integrations. Connecting other systems is hard and prone to failure.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Custom eCommerce Website Development
Custom development means creating an eCommerce website from scratch. It can be done either by an in-house team or by a company providing website development services.
From the get-go, launching internal software development efforts is already a monumental task. First, it’s long — hiring one engineer takes 49 days on average. Second, it’s expensive to maintain — a single dev can command a salary of upwards of $100K/year, not including benefits and other overhead (e.g. taxes).
Few brands and SMBs can likely afford going this route, so we will describe this from the position of hiring an external development team, which is usually far more cost-efficient.
Another caveat that is worth mentioning is customization — building an eCommerce store on the foundation of open-source software like Magento. It can be a huge money-saver because you’ll be using the preexisting code of certain features. Or it can be even more expensive than starting from scratch, because the new features will be hard to integrate.
Now that that’s out of the way, these are the pros of custom website development for eCommerce:
- Cheaper in the long term. You will be the sole owner of the website, without the need to pay anyone. Maintenance expenses will be less than licensing fees, so the total cost of ownership is lower for custom online shops.
- Maximum flexibility. With a competent team and a sizable budget, you will be able to design your online shop however you want and implement any technological feature. AR/VR, big data, social media and commercial software integrations — anything is possible.
- Total control. You control the system during its development as well as after it. This potentially gives you extra flexibility and protection. A builder that is doing fine today can go out of business tomorrow and drag your shop down with it. This won’t happen with your own system.
- Extra security. Compared with open-source solutions, your own system will be a bit better protected. Anyone can see the code of WooCommerce or Magento and find vulnerabilities in it. Finding them on your website will take a lot of extra time, and many hackers will just go looking for an easier target.
And these are its cons:
- More expensive in the short term. You will have to invest money in development and wait until the shop is complete before you can start selling.
- All the responsibility is on you. You and your team will have to handle any technical issues, update the software, cover security vulnerabilities, etc.
Summing up, companies that have unique requirements, a plentiful budget, and a desire for total control can develop an eCommerce website from scratch and benefit from it.
Need a solid development team to start an eCommerce site? EPAM Anywhere Business is the right one for the job. Schedule a free consultation to find all the details to succeed.
6 Steps on How to Build a Custom eCommerce Website — Builder Option
This is how to make an eCommerce website with a website builder.
Hosting and domain name
A domain name is the address of your shop on the Internet. Hosting is renting servers to store your website on. You can buy a name from a registrar and hosting services from a provider — some companies are one-stop-shops for both. The website of your preferred builder would likely have a list of recommended hosting providers unless they store everything on their own servers.
Сhoose the platform and the pricing plan
If you want to start an eCommerce website, there are many options on the market. Some of them we have already listed above. Review each for yourself and select the best one for you. Certain ones (e.g. Shopify and Wix) have free trials so you can learn more about how they work in practice, and at no cost.
Commercial website builders have several pricing plans with different perks. Study them and select the one that seems like the best fit. In some cases, you can even get it for free.
Set up an eCommerce website
Now comes the actual creation. Select the template, customize it and check for basic things like typos. This also includes installing any apps/plugins/extensions that you need from the builder’s marketplace.
Once you have your core store set up, add products, product images, and their descriptions. As we mentioned above, the better photos you have, the more you will sell. Assign categories to the products so that the users will be able to find them quickly and easily.
Magento is a popular choice for eCommerce websites.
Define payment methods
Your users won’t be able to pay with credit cards unless you do this. Depending on the platform you chose, you will have different payment gateways available. They differ in pricing, country/currency availability, and other factors.
If your builder doesn’t provide an SSL certificate by default, install it as an add-on. This is crucial for protecting your buyers’ data.
Set up shipping
Whether you send items to buyers for free, at a cost, or use the in-store pickup model, you need to adjust shipping rates in your online shop.
Test and launch
Now walk through each feature step-by-step and make sure everything operates as it should. Ideally, try every shipping and payment method that you offer, as well as mobile compatibility and various settings (language, address, contact details, etc.).
Once you launch your website, the real test comes.
First, you will see how your eShop performs in SEO, how its features work in reality, and whether the builder’s support is helpful. In addition, you might soon require more functionality and find out whether installing new modules is as straightforward as it should be. This “live fire” testing lasts about six months. Then you’ll be able to confidently decide whether the builder was right for you or if you need to change course going forward.
Want to make a good choice from the start between using a builder or making a custom eCommerce website? Schedule an appointment with EPAM experts and in 30 minutes you'll have the right answer for your project.
6 Steps on How to Build a Custom eCommerce Website — Custom Option
And this is how the process goes if you decide to build an eCommerce site with a dev team. To start, you will need requirements and a deep understanding of what you would like to have. If you don't know for sure, it's better to consult with BA, developers, eCommerce marketers and your project team, so you can properly describe the ideal result.
Choose the provider
Selecting the right company to handle design and development for your job is not an easy task. See independent review websites (e.g. Clutch), ask your colleagues, and search for them on Google. Only you will know who the best fit for you is.
Choose MVP features
MVP stands for “minimum viable product” — software that can perform its functions and stand out from the competition. Together with your vendor, include the most important features; you can always expand later once your shop is successful.
This is the stage to create the plan for your online shop, as well as the visuals for it. While your vendor handles the technical matters, take photos of your items and have someone write descriptions for them.
This stage takes the bulk of the time when setting up an eCommerce site. Typically, the work is done in “sprints,” or short iterations resulting in a finished piece of functionality. You will be getting regular progress reports, although the exact timeline is for you and your vendor to discuss.
This stage also includes testing.
The launch is a nail-biting experience for both you and your development partner. They should be ready to address any unexpected difficulties that arise when your shop goes live.
Once your shop is up and running, you can add new features and expand the existing ones in whichever way you see fit.
How Much Does it Cost to Make an eCommerce Website?
Developing an eCommerce website costs money. Pinpointing the exact number is impossible without knowing much about your project — your goals, target audience, goods that you sell, market, etc. However, we can give you some pointers so that you have a basic idea about the amount of money you will have to spend.
Open-source eCommerce solutions
First off, “open-source” doesn’t mean “free”. Second, “free” doesn’t mean that you won’t have to spend any money on your shop.
There are certain basic needs that you will have to cover, such as domain name and hosting. Expect to pay $15 or more per year for the domain name and at least $120 per year for hosting.
In addition, setting up a store on your own might be hard. So you will have to hire a developer for about $15-$30/hr, and that’s probably an understatement.
Also, with a ready-made CMS you can never precisely calculate the budget. They are one-size-fits-all, so many features will end up conflicting with your business processes.
Changing CMS costs money, and there is no way to predict the total number of changes — they will appear one by one, each time you need to change something or upgrade the feature that doesn't fit your processes, and this will resemble a circular pattern.
Even if you pick Magento or WooCommerce, they might turn out to not be so free after all.
Finally, there is a matter of buying the plugins. Often, the free ones are either unreliable or have too few features, so you might have to pay a few hundred more dollars depending on the extensions you need. Certain themes can also carry a cost of up to $100 per year.
At first glance, it appears that custom development costs more and requires more time than using a free CMS. The experience of our clients is different.
Custom development consists of prototyping, design, and building out both front end and back end. When you have a good sense of the final result and formulated terms of reference, you can calculate the costs of an open CMS and custom development.
Custom eCommerce site development can cost anywhere between $10K and $500K — however, with a reliable partner, you can distribute costs across a set time period, release an MVP shop and then add features one by one when the cash flow begins.
EPAM Anywhere Business Experience in Building eCommerce Websites
EPAM Anywhere Business has professionals that have implemented major eCommerce projects.
One example is the work for Lowe’s Canada. Anywhere Business's developers did a major upgrade on its website to automate many routine processes (e.g. reporting for the marketing team), add new features, and improve scalability. As a result, the client saw growth in online, mobile, and even offline sales.
Another is the eCommerce solution we delivered for Sephora. The new online store and mobile app increased mobile sales by 150% and the overall results also improved.
Online shops boost sales, attract younger customers, and tie in well with building a significant omnichannel experience. Popular builders (WiX, Magento, Shopify, PrestaShop, etc.) allow you to quickly make your own simple eCommerce website. But for a more demanding and scalable solution with unique requirements, you’ll need a reliable development partner to deliver a smart custom eCommerce Solution for you.
EPAM Anywhere Business has a proven track record in creating effective eCommerce websites that improve sales across the board. Contact us now, and let us help your business.